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Although the Obama administration on Monday released its proposed budget for fiscal year (FY) 2012, community college advocates are focused on the House of Representatives, which will likely vote this week on a bill that would slash current-year funding for Pell Grants and eliminate or cut most federally funded job training programs.
The bill, H.R. 1, would reduce the Pell Grant maximum by $845, to $4,705, for the award year that starts July 1, 2011.
“The legislation has the worthwhile goal of reducing the federal deficit, but it goes about it in ways that community colleges cannot accept,” said Walter Bumphus, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges. “At a time when community colleges are struggling to serve the unprecedented numbers of students who have turned to our institutions in these difficult economic times, I believe that this is a seriously misguided approach.”
Reducing the maximum Pell Grant by $845 is equal to increasing tuition for the community college students who are most in need of financial assistance, he said.
“This is unacceptable and will only serve to hurt our economy, and our communities, over the long term,” Bumphus said.
H.R. 1 proposes other cuts to programs important to community colleges. For example, the bill would terminate funding for the rest of FY 2011 for the major Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Title I formula programs, which serve adult, dislocated workers and youths. It would also nix most WIA grant programs—such as appropriations for Tech Prep and predominantly black institutions—in addition to deeply cutting other areas, such as funding to Hispanic-serving institutions.
Keeping the Pell maximum
Obama’s FY 2012 budget would keep the maximum Pell Grant amount at $5,500, but to do so the administration wants to stop providing the grants yearround. In order to sustain the program in a responsible way, administration officials said they are proposing saving billions by eliminating subsidies for graduate students with loans and eliminating a provision that enables some students to receive two Pell grants in a single year.
"These are very tough choices but with rising demand, we have to stretch our dollars as far as possible and do more with less," said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
The U.S. Department of Education expects demand for Pell Grants to reach 9.6 million students next year, up from 6 million in 2008. The president's budget protects recent increases in the maximum grant to $5,550 while ensuring that all eligible students continue to be served, according to the department.
At a budget briefing on Monday, Obama noted that the grants are needed to help eligible students succeed in programs such as engineering and math, which are critical to U.S. economic competitiveness.
“That’s why we’re protecting the more than $800 increase that we added to the most widely used federal scholarships, and making the tough choices to put them on a firm footing for years to come,” he said in reference to Pell Grants. “And that’s why we’re on track to meet the goal that I set when I took office: By 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.”
In other areas, the proposed budget would increase funding for: adult education state grants to $635 million; minority-serving institutions to $653 million; and TRIO programs to $920 million. However, it would cut funding or career and technical education and Tech Prep.
A new workforce fund
The president’s budget also calls to create a new $380 million Workforce Innovation Fund. States, regions and localities would compete for funding by showing their commitment to transforming their workforce systems, testing new ideas and replicating proven strategies to deliver better employment and education results at a lower cost. The initiative would be co-run by the U.S. Education and Labor departments.
“Like the new Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grants, the Innovation Fund will create incentives for grantees to consider evidence in designing their programs, collect better data to know what is working well and what is not, and find ways to make program dollars stretch further,” according to the budget outline.
The president is also requesting increased funding for the National Science Foundation to encourage students to considering careers in science, technology, math and science (STEM). The proposed budget includes $20 million for a science and technology workforce program geared toward undergraduate students from historically under-represented groups in those fields, including students at Hispanic-serving institutions.
Copyright ©2012 American Association of Community Colleges